Think big; think long term.
June 1, 2012
London is fundamentally different from other Olympic Games’ host destinations in that it has planned the event in reverse, focusing on how the sites will be used afterwards and how they will be integrated into neighbouring communities. This was the prevailing message taken from ULI Europe’s Trends Conference held at London’s Canary Wharf.
A large proportion of the £9bn budget has been spent on preparatory work including cleaning contaminated industrial land and polluted waterways running through East London. At the Conference, Adrian Wyatt, former Chief Executive of UK property company, Quintain, said the adopted approach was to “think big; think long term”.
University College London’s exploration of East London as a potential site for relocation will make a significant contribution to the long term sustainability of the area and Birkbeck, University of London has already relocated part of its campus from Bloomsbury in Central London to Stratford – the heart of the Olympic site. Historically, many of the major regeneration schemes in London have been kicked off by educational facilities, which are valuable in their contribution to ‘place creation’ – a term coined by Andrew Gould, CEO UK, Jones Lang LaSalle.
Bill Hanway, Executive Director of Operations for Planning, Design and Development at technical and management support services firm AECOM, said: “You have to leverage the legacy of the Olympic sites, creating and promoting a healthy lifestyle using the Games as a catalyst.” Not only will the Olympic Park become a global attraction, on a local level it will promote more sustainable living through upgraded walking and cycling routes.
“We always knew what we wanted to end up with; we worked backwards,” Hanway explained. “The urban fabric was part of that story as it developed.” As such, the ability to deliver schools was as pertinent as creating employment – Westfield Stratford City has already created 8,500 jobs.
London’s housing shortage was also factored into the planning, through the construction of 10,000-12,000 new homes in total. The Athletes Village will deliver 2,800 homes, with a further 1,500 to be built on the same site post-Games when it will become known as the East Village – designed as housing for families and individuals and retrofitted for the athletes, not the other way round.
In terms of urban development the biggest impact of the Games derives from the opportunity to invest in infrastructure and regeneration and this will leave the longest lasting legacy. “This will shift the geographic and mental map of London, East” said Andy Altman, Chief Executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation. The aim is to create a new destination in London for tourism, a model based on the success of London’s Southbank.
The location of Stratford is also a key factor in attracting businesses. The high speed rail services from Stratford International, an upgrade to increase capacity and accessibility at Stratford Regional station, the Dockland Light Railway extensions to Woolwich and Stratford International, and the East London Line, which connects inner city Hackney to the tube network are important. In addition, Crossrail will link East and South-east London with the City, West End, Heathrow and Maidenhead from 2018. Eurostar trains do not currently stop at Stratford, however – a point of contention, and one that must be resolved before companies will locate European headquarters there.
Wyatt believes this should apply to London as a whole. “We’re in the midst of a second industrial revolution, the impact of which on cities is difficult to predict,” he said. In his view, London could go further by using the River Thames more for transport; reducing ‘wasted waste’ (70% of London’s waste goes to landfill); producing more of its own energy; increasing airport capacity; and simplifying the planning system.
“The true legacy could be that the Olympic development model becomes one to emulate,” according to Wyatt.
Lessons can be learned from other host nations, both good and bad. While many sports venues are practically abandoned in Athens, the Shanghai Expo 2010 facilitated investment in the City’s metro system, airports and deep-sea container ports. Adding twelve metro routes (increasing passenger volume from 0.8 million to 5.5 million) and with a plan to accommodate 50% of the City’s passenger volume by 2015, will significantly reduce traffic-related carbon emissions.
Ultimately, the outcome of the Games is clear: London will have a new urban landscape with the best infrastructure in the UK.
Lauren Parr is news editor at Real Estate Capital, a London-based publication that covers property finance throughout Europe.